Pan-Africanism and the youth in Africa: between now and then

The song of Pan-Africanism cannot be sung in today’s Africa the same way as it was half a century ago


Eyob Balcha, special to Addis Standard



Pan-Africanism then

Think about a young African in the late 1950s or in the 1960s on the streets of Algiers, Accra or Arusha. You will get a characteristic picture of a youth-hood that hardly escapes from the ideals and debates of freedom and independence, and from the categorical distinction of Socialism/Marxism vs. Capitalism/Imperialism. The widespread grass root social movements for noble ideas of social justice and equality would also have high probability of enlightening the youth’s perspective.

The continental youth movement had reached a significant turn when the Pan-African Youth Movement was established in 1962 in Guinea, Conakry, a year before the OAU was formed in May 1963. The determination and achievements of notable independence leaders like Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba and lately Robert Mugabe had informed the worldview, attitude and character of the then young generation of Africa in a truly Pan-Africanist manner.

The role of organized movements both at national and continental level contributed to the anti-colonization struggles as well as for the consolidation of Pan-African identity among many. Both the ideational explanations as well as the material context played a role in defining peoples’ identity and enforcing their collective action. A Pan-African perspective among many was illustrated through a deep and analytical reflection and synthesis of the global and continental context while others were taking the lead towards the freedom of African people from the yoke of colonization and apartheid.

The Pan-Africanism of Marcus Garvey is different from that of Nkrumah. Though there still remains a common thread one can follow from then till the present, the dynamism of Pan-Africanism to fit into its apparent reality is inherent to the nature of the movement and its ideology.

 Pan-Africanism now

We are certainly in a different world and phase of global civilization; the views and attitudes of many African youth are influenced neither by an independent leader nor by a colonizer. However, there are a multitude of factors that inform the African youth character and action which are neither positive nor negative at face-value, but too important to be ignored.

Present time African youth may not necessarily need to pass through a deterministic ideological fights or strictly hierarchical political organizations like their counterparts half a century ago, but they can shake age old tyranny like Mubarak or Ben Ali.

The Pan-Africanism period of Sekou Toure and Oliver Tambo required a thorough analytical understanding of the structure and functioning of the then imperialist and colonialist world hand in hand with satisfying the craving for freedom; today’s Pan-Africanism can only resonates to the hearts and minds of African youth only if it fits to the call for freedom of conscience and expression; to the peaceful and equal development of society in harmony with its culture and environment; as well as to the unreserved call of a fairly representative, legitimate and responsive State.

In the past being a believer and practitioner of Pan-Africanist ideals was not an option but somehow an existential question of identity. But today, there are a number of roads the youth in Africa can take that are less burdensome than the genuine ideologies of Pan-Africanism. The youth in today’s Africa is also spoiled by the seemingly fancy materialist lifestyle and consumer driven corporate world which mercilessly swallows its politically indecisive nature, which is particularly widespread in many parts of the continent as those who control power and the source of power have effectively dissociated themselves from the ideals of Pan-Africanism and only take it to sweeten their political discourses when it suits them best.


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